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Nutrition of the Foal


Dr. Martin Adams, Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

Your new foal arrives and you want to provide for its proper growth and health. The first consideration is to make sure that the foal receives an adequate amount of quality colostrum from the dam. Colostrum contains antibodies that provide immunity against infectious diseases. These antibodies are absorbed directly into the foal's bloodstream from the digestive tract. This direct absorption of antibodies can only occur with a high degree of success within the first 24 hours of the foal's life.

Normally the foal will nurse often enough and the mare's colostrum will contain enough antibodies or immunoglobulins (IgG) to provide sufficient immunity. Within 12 hours after birth, foals should have either nursed colostrum from the dam, been fed a colostrum replacement, or had colostrum administered by nasogastric tube.

Foals can have the immunoglobulin (IgG) concentration in the blood checked at 12 to 24 hours after birth to insure that an adequate level has been achieved. If no colostrum has been provided to the foal by the third day or the IgG level is too low (< 400 mg/dl), blood plasma can be administered intravenously by a veterinarian to provide a sufficient antibody concentration.

Southern States Legends® Growth is wonderful for growing foals. This feed meets all the requirements of a high quality creep feed and more, with additional digestive aids such as yeast culture, organic trace minerals and Bio-Mos, a feed additive that binds pathogenic bacteria in the foal's intestinal tract and reduces the incidence of digestive upset.

Start creep feeding the foal at 1 month of age, also provide access to good quality hay at this time. The foal's digestive system does not produce enzymes in sufficient quantity to digest sugars and starches that are present in horse feed until at least 3 weeks of age and should be provided only a milk-based diet until then. Feed one pound of creep feed per month of age for the first three months if the mare produces a normal amount of milk. When your foal is consuming four pounds of Legends® Growth per day, it can be successfully weaned.

Then increase the amount of feed to 1% to 1.5% of body weight after weaning, adjusting the amount of feed according to the desired growth rate and hay quality. Provide enough hay so the foal can consume at least 1% of its body weight daily. Before weaning, the foal has such a high protein requirement and fiber digestion is still inefficient, so a feed like Legends® Growth is appropriate, even if alfalfa hay is available to the foal.

After weaning the foal, provide Legends® Growth at 1% to 1.75% of body weight, depending on desired growth rate and hay quality. This feed can be fed for up to one year of age. Wait one to two months before switching the weanling to another feed (we suggest Legends 14) to insure a good growth rate and less stress during the weaning period.

Foals are normally weaned at 4½ to 6 months. Milk production by the mare is usually sufficient to provide a desired growth rate for the first 3 months and then declines to a level that will not allow a desirable growth rate. Creep feeding allows the foal to consume feed on its own without having to compete with the dam. Creep feeding not only allows the foal supplemental nutrients to continue an optimum growth rate from three months to weaning, but also provides a balanced diet to prevent developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) during the first three months by supplying nutrients deficient in mare's milk.

Advantages of Creep Feeding Foals

  • Larger and heavier at same age as non-creep-fed foals
  • Cope better with weaning stress, with less weight loss during weaning
  • Less trouble adapting to weaning because foals already accustomed to feed
  • Lower risk of DOD and contracted tendons due to lower growth rate after weaning than non-creep-fed foals
  • Less weight loss for mare when foal is creep-fed
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